The second installment of our regular feature Reviews from Elsewhere features a new thematic White Pine anthology, reviewed by Kelley Johnson, theologian, minister, and community activist whose home is somewhere between Santa Barbara, California and Bujumbura, Burundi.
Finding The Way Home: Poems of Awakening and Transformation, ed. Dennis Maloney (White Pine Press) $16
This collection of poems found its way to me at a time when I was, once again, on the threshold of change. A good gift from a friend and a timely reminder to remain awake as I cross from one season to the next, or one continent to the next, as is my current mode of movement.
The poetry I often encounter as a literary layperson moves with a dark heft. I read cynical, hearty-heavy poetry that weighs me down with each stanza. It’s often laden with the heated panting of erotic love and consuming lust or the lonely love of tears and Kleenex. But this anthology, edited by Dennis Maloney, is of a different sort altogether. Finding The Way Home: Poems of Awakening and Transformation is a bouquet of wildflowers.
Maloney has brought together poems from various cultural contexts, he says, to “awaken and transform” the general reader and to act as an inspiring catalyst for fellow poets. I cannot speak to the latter, but as a general reader, I think this book achieves the desired effect. The poetry comes from China, Japan, Latin America, India, the Middle East, Europe and the United States. My own personal lament is that Africa, a continent bursting with transformational energy and instance, was not included in this collection. I believe the book stands stronger for including the varied poetic traditions birthed in diverse lands, giving readers a deeply textured sense of awakening across cultures.
Reading the poems together, one can see that there are some constants when poets reflect on moments of awareness and transformation. Silence is ever the companion to burgeoning awareness. Pine trees, one or the entire forest, often communicate to us about the rootedness and weathering that is part of transformation. Mountains loom large; as do flowers with soft floating petals and gentle fragrance. The bloom of choice is the cherry blossom, it seems. The poets gravitate to images of rudderless boats drifting downstream and roads—narrow or wide—ready for exploring. They are guided by stillness like stones, welcoming reflection from a fixed position in the world. This chorus of poems gives one rich voice whispering let go, travel light.
As I read one poem and then the next, I felt a lightening of spirit. They created space for my own petals to unfold and settle in a posture of openness. When you are poised on the threshold nothing is more apropos than a wide-open space to receive what comes next. This collection of wildflowers—I mean, poems—will come as a gift to your doorstep. This is a thoughtful bouquet, well selected and rightly bound together to bring us the levity and openness we crave as we walk through liminal spaces and times of change.
End of the Road
by Tao K’ai, tr. by Jerome Seaton
here I am, seventy-six
a life’s worth of karma just about gone.
alive, I don’t lust for Heaven;
dead, I won’t worry about Hell.
I’ll loose my grip and lie down beyond the world
given in to fate, freely, without constraint.
A Gentleman’s Wealth
by Ikkyu, tr. by John Stevens
A poet’s treasure consists of words and phrases;
A scholar’s days and nights are perfumed with
For me, plum blossoms framed by the window
is an unsurpassable pleasure;
A stomach tight with cold but still enchanted
by snow, the moon, and dawn frost.
Mountain Falling Flowers
by Rengetsu, tr. by John Stevens
We accept the graceful falling
Of mountain cherry blossoms,
But it is much harder for us
To fall away from our own
Attachment to the world.
The Supple Deer
by Jane Hirshfield
The quiet opening
between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches.
Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through.
No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.
I don’t know how a stag turns
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never before felt such accurate envy.
Not of the deer:
To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.